Spoilers ahead for this week's Dark Nights: Metal #4.
Dark Nights: Metal #4 is chock full of surprises, from the "Rebirth" return of Black Adam to the appearance of dark versions of Hawkman and Hawkgirl to a new twist on the DCU's creation myth.
Dark Nights: Metal #4 by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo is the latest chapter in the event by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo. The series, which took a break last week for the release of the tie-in one-shot Batman Lost, has shown how forces from the Dark Multiverse who serve the evil Barbatos are trying to pull the Earth down into the depths of their dark realm.
The dark forces are succeeding, having come to the Earth by using Bruce Wayne as a sort of portal. At the moment of their arrival, Bruce was sent into the Dark Multiverse, and when Superman tried to go rescue him, he became trapped there as well — both being used as batteries to fuel Barbatos' plans.
The issue starts with a prose story with rough illustrations, reiterating what has happened so far in Dark Nights: Metal, but structuring it as a library book of ancient myths. A narration caption introducing the story is from Dream of the Endless, a character who hasn't been seen since issue #2.
Dream's narration tells of the Dreaming, his home, which has a library of "impossible stories destined to only happen in dream, or in nightmare."
He says that if any of these dream-only stories actually occurs, the whole library will burn.
And, he says, if that happens, the world will likely burn with it.
On that positive note…
We pick up the story of Batman and Superman trapped in the Dark Multiverse, still on the giant tower of power that is fueling the DCU's plunge into the "dark."
The aged Bruce that readers saw at the end of Metal #3 (and in Batman Lost) is surrounded by Nightmare versions of Superman. One wears a Lex Luthor armor, another looks like the Electric Blue version, and another is dressed in Batman-type armor. (The latter is the answer to "what if Superman finally killed Batman and took his mantle.")
These dark versions of Superman are telling Batman that he's no longer needed on the tower because he succeeded in luring Clark Kent. And sure enough, Superman is shown with electricity running through him, charring and aging as he powers the giant battery.
But Bruce fights back. His gear includes a gauntlet called the "five finger death punch," with every color Kryptonite from gold to periwinkle. As he tries to fight off the nightmare Supermen, he tells his version of Clark that he realizes that Superman looks like he's at the center of a raging black sun.
Black sun? Batman realizes that sounds familiar. When Dream of the Endless was last seen in Dark Nights: Metal #2, he said to Batman, " "If the nightmare army succeeds, if the world goes dark … call to me in the place of the black sun."
So Batman calls. "Dream! Dream! Daniel! Help us!"
As they are taken to the Dreaming, they discover the library and, as outlined above, because Barbatos has brought nightmares into the real world, the books are beginning to burn. "Should this continue, all of the Dreaming will be consumed, and with it, all stories, forever."
Not good news for us comic book fans…
Dream cannot help the heroes fight Barbatos, but what he can do is give them a story.
He tells the story of the creation of the Multiverse. First were matter and anti-matter, and with them were three creatures. Two were the brothers who monitored the matter and anti-matter (who were, it appears, the Monitor and Anti-Monitor).
A third being was tasked to watch over what was "yet to come," residing in the "World Forge" that existed deep in the "rolling cauldron of possibility" known as the Dark Multiverse. The Forge created worlds from the hopes and fears of living beings. If those worlds became stable, they "rose into the Orrery" and became part of the Multiverse.
OK, so here's where Barbatos comes in - the third being had a great dragon with him in the Forge. This dragon was tasked with destroying the unstable worlds.
At some point, the dragon Barbatos killed his master. So yeah, that's bad. Now the World Forge has started to go dark, and the nasty worlds aren't being destroyed anymore.
Readers learn from Daniel that when Batman and Superman escaped from the tower, they halted the Earth from sinking completely into the Dark Multiverse. But it is sitting on "the edge of the cosmic membrane." So something further must be done.
Dream says there may be hope at the World Forge, if there is any of the "pure, bright metal of possibility" remaining. Dream says this metal is "far more powerful" than Nth Metal (which he calls "ninth metal").
This metal harms the dragon and its armies, Dream says. But he adds that they "have a greater secret, a cosmic being to tip the balance further in their favor, and there is little time left."
So Daniel creates a passage for Batman and Superman to travel to the World Forge. They have to "walk with hope and wonder" in their heart, something Batman struggles to do until he begins to think of Damian and his family.
Meanwhile, the Heroes Keep Looking
At the same time as the adventures of the World's Finest in the Dark Multiverse, there's also stuff happening in the "real" Multiverse.
To review, in Dark Nights: Metal #3, while Batman had disappeared and Superman had gone to find him, the heroes of the DCU were splitting up into four groups.
Three of the groups were going to hunt for significant deposits of Nth Metal:
- Aquaman and Deathstroke in the ocean depths under Atlantis;
- Green Lantern, Mr. Terrific and the egg-shaped Plastic Man on the hidden world of Thanagar Prime;
- Wonder Woman, Doctor Fate and Kendra Saunders on the Rock of Eternity.
A fourth group, Flash and Cyborg, were traveling through the Multiverse to find help.
The Atlantis group finds that a sacred spot in Atlantis has been violently accessed by someone - a tomb that contains a secret portal to the depths below.
The Thanagar group meets Onimar Synn, who has taken over Thanagar Prime and consumed all its Nth Metal. He has teamed up with Starro the Conqueror, who begins to control the minds of the Earth heroes so they can be imprisoned. Synn claims that the Thanagarians have known about the "Dark" for eons, and they're ready to fire a "Phoenix Cannon" fueled by super-metals at the Earth to stop the forces of the dark from taking the entire DCU.
The Rock of Eternity group encounters resistance - and some negativity from Kendra, who doesn't believe their mission will succeed. But Kendra informs the other two that Hawkman's mace is inside the Rock, that it is probably the Nth Metal they seek.
Surprises at the Rock
As Wonder Woman and Doctor Fate search for the mace of Nth Metal in the Rock of Eternity, suddenly Kendra whips out the Anti-Monitor's brain.
Oh yeah! The brain! Back in Metal #2, the Immortals were hatching a plan to fire the Anti-Monitor's astral brain through the core of the Multiverse, at the Rock of Eternity, to try to destroy the Dark Multiverse.
Doctor Fate explains that Kendra has brought the astral brain "to compressed form," and sure enough, she's about the slam it into the Rock of Eternity.
But Doctor Fate says doing this could destroy everything. Wonder Woman pleads with Kendra to stop.
Suddenly, Kendra falls to the floor and begins to transform. She turns into a black and silver, nasty-but-also-cool-looking version of Hawkgirl. She explains that she is no longer Kendra.
"I am Lady Blackhawk, and all roads lead back to darkness."
With that, Black Adam appears. He explains that, as one of the Immortals, he knew about the plan and decided to stop it. He and Vandal Savage made a deal with Barbatos.
Forge No More
The issue cuts to Batman and Superman, arriving at the World Forge. The artwork and Dream's narration confirm that the "Forge has gone forever … dark."
And Superman and Batman begin to realize that their mission has failed, they hear a booming voice behind them.
It's a great beast, with fire coming from its hawk-like eyes and giant steel-looking wings on its back.
And on its chest is the symbol of Hawkman.
"I am Carter Hall, dragon of Barbatos, keeper of the Dark Forge," the beast says. "And there are only endings here."
Dream's narration summarizes the situation by stating, "With those words, and this book, all hope burns to ash."
The story continues in January 31's Dark Nights: Metal #5.